Beauty in Maui
There’s something about the wind that makes me feel more alive. Maybe it’s the tiny matter being picked up and transferred from place to place. Maybe it’s the feeling of starting anew. The old getting blown away and the new finding a fresh place to land. It could be the spiritual essence I feel – Mother Nature and her mind stirring up something clever.
The ounce of regret that summer is over but the hope of anew leaf. Branches shaving away their past and letting their beings fall swiftly before them to the hard ground. The air seems cooler, while the days grow shorter. It’s such a cyclical process – a metaphor for life. We sit in a season, hanging on to the moments that ripely exist, but foresee the approaching shadows of what is to come next. Are we ever really completely here? Who is here? Or what are we doing here? Always on the brink of knowing that “something” is next and “something” has happened.
My days before my departure for the Peace Corps are trickling in quickly but quietly. Sunrise by sunset, March of 2014 is approaching faster than snowfall in late December. I have disabled my normal “alert” reaction to most situations – simply to live in these precious moments I have before I embark on this journey. I haven’t built expectations or apprehensions about much of anything. I’m finding myself more at ease than I could have ever imagined. Maybe it’s the confidence I have built in the past year. Or maybe it’s the crisp air that spooks me on my mid afternoon walks that has inspired me to be more comfortable with my lonliness – or being alone; depends on perspective.
I have decided to indulge in a pre cursor to my journey in Costa Rica. Settling into an unfamilar yet exciting adventure in Maui, Hawaii. I’ve found peace with the nature here, and never felt so welcomed with aloha spirit.
The ocean used to scare me-all of the unknown beneath me and not being able to see the “end.” Now, I’m seeing this is a metaphor for struggles in my life. Sometimes you just have to jump. Jump into the deep blue without knowing what’s 5 feet in front of you. I went snorkeling deep out in the ocean last week and literally could not see anything but blue ocean and tiny neon matter through my snorkel mask. It scared me, but it reminded me of how small I really am on this earth. Sometimes things seem so important and we allow ourselves to be consumed by thoughts or worries, but we forget that life and this moment are bigger than a spiraling thought.
In Tahoe, I felt so comfortable seeing the other side of the lake; always knowing where the water met the shore. Here in Maui, I’m in one of the most isolated island chains in the world. There is no certainty of what is beyond 80 miles in front of me. How liberating is that?! I’ve always said that being comfortable is one of the worst things you could ever do to yourself. Step away from the shore, in to the unknown and let the waves take you away.
Although I feel as though time is closing in, I feel content and excited about the steps in front of me. Mother nature has allowed me to see her cyclical way of life and her constant way of moving. She’s never sitting still. Her trees are shedding their summer blooms, her wind is growing louder, and her tide is getting higher. I intend to follow her lead, to stay constant and to stay very alive. When I put my toes in the sand here in Maui I can feel the gravity and ocean pulling me out- “come here Aimee, it’s time to adventure,” I imagine she says.
At night we look to the stars for guidance. Hoping ol’ Orion’s Belt will lead our hearts back to a familiar place. I reminisce how my best friend and I would lay our heads on the pier, gazing from the first star to the hundredth we saw. As I camped beneath the stars in Hana, HI last week, one of the most beautiful and spiritual places I’ve been, I felt the stars holding me together and shining a light of guidance on my path – Knowing my friends and family around the world are sharing the same sky. These evenings, I look for the moon but it’s lost in the glimmer. But then I remember, the moon only a sliver, and the stars receive their moment to shine. The moon, a gentleman, tucks himself away so his friends can be heard. He’ll be back when it’s his time. Patience at his best. Mother nature never fails us in her imitation of our realities.
Here’s to a new adventure. Another journey. Living with nature. And finding peace amidst it all! Aloha!
How old would you be if you didn’t really know how old you were?
Is the candle we add to the cake really a year worth of memories and experience?
Or is the life we live measured simply by the pureness of each moment? Things that have happened, but not defined us. Moments of laughter and moments of sadness. Times of accomplishments and the growths of friendships.
Today, August 15, is my dad’s birthday. He would be 59. I am celebrating the day with my news of serving for the Peace Corps in Costa Rica come March 2014. Ironically, my dad actually helped his own father in a business in Costa Rica in his early twenties. He built a home for this amazing country in his heart over the time he spent there in the mid 1970’s. He had some great stories to tell me about the business experience he gained, the glances of intercultural life he immersed in, and the friendships he made within the country.
After the Peace Corps application process, I would “pray” quietly in my heart for a placement in Costa Rica. No matter the placement, I would have accepted and made the absolute best of the country I’d be serving, but I thought being in Costa Rica would be a full-circle journey for me.
I awaited anxiously for the e-mail from the Peace Corps placement desk. One month ago, 2 weeks after my 23rd birthday, I received the email that I will be serving for Costa Rica come March 10, 2014. I want to say I was in shock, but more than anything, I felt my dad right there with me and I knew he heard me.
I have spent many years questioning whether he was really with me or not. Questioning the after-life and questioning how strong our connection really was for me to not feel his presence with me constantly. I thought I would honestly be able to SEE him and HEAR his words all of the time. Someone once told me, “Aimee, you can’t ask for a sign and receive a tree burning down right in front of you.” Naively, I asked, “Why not?”
This year has surely been an eye-opener for me. Learning to let go. Learning to have an open heart. Learning to dismiss expectations. Most of all, learning to BREATHE. I finally started to see little things that had traces of my father all over them. Instead of assuming coincidence, I gently smiled and knew it was him.
For me, being 23 means I have at least 77 more years of life. The next two of those years will be spent in Costa Rica. My dad’s life was cut short at the young age of 50. But to me, he lived to be 100. Just like I intend to. My god-brother once said, “It’s weird how some people come and go and you can forget about them…then some people feel like they’re still alive…to me, that’s a measure of how well they lived, the best measure.” Although 50 years old is half of a life time, my father lived that 50 years with everything he had.
So, how old would you be if you really didn’t know how old you were? Maybe our age is just an illusion in our minds. Make the years count instead of counting the years. Happy Birthday Pops. Can’t wait for Costa.
Distraction has always been my biggest enemy, yet my best friend. I have effortlessly, and slightly subconsciously, drowned myself in every distraction possible to avoid some inner battles. I can dive into relationships, cling to new friends, work six jobs, take 22 units in school, stay out until the sun comes out, read a book, or turn on the TV all just to avoid my mind from being consumed by my inner conflicts.
Don’t get me wrong, distraction can be good. Counter to letting myself fall into a world of distractions, I will stay awake at night, tossing and turning with my mind racing. I will stress myself out so bad, literally making myself sick with worry. Often times, these worries are minor but I have let my mind turn them into a monster with menacing tentacles of concern, fear, and anxiety.
Recently I have seen how distraction is a promptness we turn to in times of confusion and sorrow. In the horrific events happening around the world like the Sandy Hook shooting or the bombing at the Boston Marathon, it is obvious that sometimes we simply do not want to be faced with reality so we distract ourselves. The news comes on and we see images of children losing their lives and we change the channel to Rihanna’s new-hit single or a rerun of Big Bang Theory. After we change the channel we text a friend about how the club went last night or we go to work and our minds drift off to somewhere else with those horrific events just a faint image in our minds. The guilt of doing this eats away at my consciousness and leaves me with a feeling of inhumanity, as I’m sure others do as well.
Going off on the media’s agenda is another ramble, but I think it is important that when things happen in life, not just what we see in the media, but in life right next to us, we acknowledge and we consume. Little things that trigger a sense of emotion, whether happy or sad, we fully embrace that emotion and we feel.
The thing about sorrow that can be hard to grasp is that life does go on. We lose people and the world doesn’t stop for us to gather our thoughts let alone ourselves. Tragedy happens but for some reason other things take more importance in our lives. It ultimately is an ability we have learned to do – we block certain things out to numb our emotions and to avoid hurt. The back of our minds most likely have questions or pain mounting, but we swat it away faster than a fly in summer.
The biggest dilemma that this ability to block out has done to us, is that it has hindered our ability to feel. It has obstructed pure emotion. Instead of truly mourning or feeling, we pick up a book, or log onto facebook and let our emotions whimper out like a dying fire, not giving it a chance to re-ignite. Distraction has given us the ability to disconnect with emotion when we are feeling a sense of powerlessness to deal with whatever “it” is.
I’ve battled with the concept of ‘distraction’ for a while now. Debating whether it is a friend or a foe. There have been times in my life where distraction was an absolute necessity to get me through the day and not go mentally insane. I’ve maintained pointless friendships I knew were never going to hold substance, purely for the element to keep myself busy and distracted from reality. To an extent, distractions can be healthy. It is never productive to obsess over a thought or situation that happened. The mind can do unthinkable things to your body. It can cause anxiety and worry that is non-existant, which ultimately leads to more damaging things to our body than imaginable (high blood pressure, panic disorder, stress, weight change, etc). Distraction has been my best friend in these types of situations, allowing me to calm my mind and body with a tender escape.
I don’t think I have found the balance or accurate approach to the concept of distraction. The mind is a delicate thing. Like a game of tug-o-war, the mind can sway or be jerked in various directions. Ultimately, we have control over our minds, but distractions seem to hold the power on the direction where our mind resides. Distraction can be a ‘friend’ to us in a time of unnecessary worry, but it can be a ‘foe’ to us with a dangerous motive to avoid emotion. What is distraction to you? Friend or foe?
With the kick-off of summer approaching, I challenge you to be mindful of the distractions that you place before yourself. Summer might be one of the toughest times or one of the easiest times to be mindful – depending on how you approach it. Delve into the wilderness and feel the wind blowing past your hair, dive into the water and let the frigidness strike your bones, but most importantly, feel the earth beneath your feet and the blood running through your veins. Connect with any and every emotion you feel. Don’t let the temptations distract you from your trueness.
Time – “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarding a whole. “
Time is a misunderstood yet simple concept. We rush time but then we beg for time to slow down. We pass our days by keeping busy with work or school, but when we lay our heads down at night we wonder where our days went. We reflect on our birthdays, comparing each year to the last. We celebrate new years by setting hopes and goals for the future 365 days. We watch the snowfall and can’t wait for the sun to come, but the sun shines and we are ready for fall again. Seasons keep changing, days keeps passing, and we are still only just amongst the “time.”
Eight years ago today, I lost my father. May 9, 2005. I remember exactly how the day went and I am sure I will never forget a moment of that day for the rest of my life. Every year around the beginning of May, I swear my mind and body can recall those feelings from 2005 and I can’t help but be overcome with grief. The date itself has always reminded me of that time in my life. The sadness I felt, the anger I built up, the regrets that I had, and the refusal to accept my loss.
It’s just a date. It will come every year and the way I felt on that day will never change. I am not sure if it is just culturally or a worldly commonality, but we hold the significance of dates very close to our hearts – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or just a day that something important happened. We reflect on what happened the previous year and try to predict the hopes for the following year. Some dates make us happy and remind us of a precious memory. Other dates raise sadness or anger in our hearts of inescapable memories.
We tend to measure our progress in life by weighing the change in our lives over a year. I blinked, and here I am eight years later. I have had difficulties grasping the concept of time regarding the loss of my father. I was always saying things like, “I can’t believe it’s been 5 years. (Now 8).” A lot of that shock was the fact that I was not happy with where I was at with my grief. I have taken a long, windy road through grief. Many detours, pit-stops, and bumps in that road, and time never once stopped for me. Sometimes I’ve felt like things were happening so fast, yet at other times the days couldn’t pass quickly enough. In reality, time was passing all the same. Second by second, minute by minute, day by day, and year by year. I have come to realize time and grief do not merge at any point. Like oil and vinegar, they associate, but they never mix.
My best friend recently just lost her dad as well. It has been a little over a month since he passed. I have tried to relate/compare to understand more – one month verses eight years. But it never makes sense to compare the concept of time with the concept of loss. Time does not make the hole in your heart shrink, or grow for that matter. People always say, “time will heal all.” But sometimes I think time is our enemy, at least the meaning we have placed on time. The thing that time does allow us to do is gain knowledge and experience. It allows us to search for peace and to find ourselves. However, time has no accountability if you decide not to use it wisely. That is the difference between eight years and one month in time; it all depends on how you use it.
I woke up today feeling great. I looked at the calendar and the date didn’t bother me. The hole in my heart didn’t feel any bigger than it has been the past 8 years. If anything, I feel content with it. Of course my heart feels a little heavier but I know May 9th will always make me feel that way. This year I have decided to not measure anything by the time that has passed since my dad passed away. Although it is ironic because I have never been so sure how short life is, I sometimes think time is just an illusion in our minds. I will never let time define how far I have come or who I am.
Besides the significance we place on certain dates, I can say we do take time for granted. We watch the sunrise slowly and it set even quicker. We set an early alarm but toss and turn in our beds late at night. We are accustomed to passing time with technology. It is rare if we let time move us, instead we move time. Dr. Seuss said it perfectly, “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? “
As the definition of time states, time is a continued progress of events in the past, present, and future as a whole. What happened in time 8 years ago connects to my time one month ago, and 3 weeks from now. Although time will never stop for us, we have every bit of control over time. We cannot allow time to define us, but we also cannot take time for granted. The hands will always turn at the same speed, no matter how fast or slow we are living.
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Losing the most amazing person and finding my own ‘Peace of Derek’
No matter what age a person passes away or how old you are it is never easy and you can never be fully prepared for it. My grandpa passed away at 92 and a half, and I was 21 and it was the first person in my life that I was really close to that passed away, and it was incredibly difficult for me to deal with.
My grandpa was a rare type of person, and to have him has my grandfather was such a blessing. My Jichan (grandpa in Japanese, and what we called him), was born and raised in the United States, he opened and ran produce shops in San Francisco, CA. When he was in his mid-twenties he had everything taken away from him because he was of Japanese descent. He was put in an internment camp during WWII, and the government took everything he owned except one suitcase. Because of this and many other hardships my grandpa endured during his early life, it is amazing that my grandpa was the most optimistic, positive, enlightening person I ever had the pleasure of knowing. He never said a bad word about anyone and always thought the best of every situation. He truly was an eternal optimist. He was a 16-year old in a 90 year-old body; he had humor, and so much laughter and love. You would never guess he was 92, except for his wisdom!
The night my grandpa passed away was rough, I cried, and my heart physically hurt. Through all of it I couldn’t stop thinking about how the rest of my family was hurting too, all my cousins and aunts and uncles. Finding my ‘peace of Derek’ was realizing the way my grandpa passed was exactly how he would have wanted to. He was active and sharp until they day he hurt himself doing gardening in his backyard. He was in the hospital for 3 days, all four of his kids got to say goodbye to him, and he was gone. It was peaceful and there was no time spent in and out of the hospital for our family.
For those of you who know my family, we are ridiculously close. My grandpa had 10 grandkids, and I am just as close or closer with every one of my cousins than most people are with their brothers and sisters. The reason we are all so close is because my grandpa made it a point to get us all together and make it so special when we were all there. His 2 year anniversary is coming up this month, and we just had a service for him in Sacramento, and all 10 grandkids made it up for the weekend (my cousins flew in from New York, San Diego, L.A.). He continues to bring us all together even though he is gone. My ‘peace of Derek’ was realizing that parts of my grandpa continue to live in the four most wonderful children he has raised, and in all of his grandchildren. Different values of my grandpa and his personality lie in each and every one of us, and his spirit will live on forever. Finding my ‘Peace with Derek’ was realizing how important my family is and how they have all embodied different qualities of my grandpa that will live on, and be passed down generation to generation.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa, sometimes I catch myself talking about him as if he is alive, and every time I walk through the door at his house, I still think I might see him sitting there watching TV and eating food. But I remind myself that he is very much alive in all the people’s lives he touched and changed– he lives in my aunts and uncles, brothers and sister, and cousins. He had such a strong spirit and soul, and although, he is gone he is still very much here!
As time passes I remember little things that he said to me when I was younger that now mean so much more to me. He always said, “Never sweat the small stuff,” and “you can’t change what has happened in the past so you just have to let me be, you can’t dwell on it.” He made me realize the bigger picture in life and to continue to look forward to the future, because we really can’t change what has happened in the past. Losing my grandpa was not easy, but by ‘finding Peace with Derek’ and looking at the people he influenced, and the life he had, and that he still lives around me everyday makes it that much easier!
I unfolded them one corner at a time. Stretching them out to what seemed like a mile, then setting them on my bed in a some what regretful motion. I hated putting on sheets; more accurately, I dreaded putting on sheets. Let’s just say it wasn’t a task I ever learned how to do with confidence.
I pulled my hardest to get them to fit over my mattress. All my might going into making this bed. The sheets, of course, going against their will. I hated them and I could sense that if they had a soul, they would hate me, too. They were stupid and pink; excuse me, rose, and as I sat there on my hard bed in a pile of sheets, I pondered why I had even bought those stupid rose-colored sheets in the first place.
I was so frustrated. Feeling so sorry for myself because I happened to purchase the sheets from hell. I imagined my roommate in college, her bed always so perfectly pressed. I swear she ironed her sheets right onto her bed. Why couldn’t I just get my damn sheets to look as perfect. I sat in silence with my sheets as if the maid that didn’t exist would waltz through the door and dramatically come to my rescue. Effortlessly wrapping the fitted sheet so tightly, yet perfectly, around my mattress. Laying the other sheet delicately on my bed, tucked in between my mattress and the box spring so snug. As I stared blankly at my naked bed, I knew that was not going to happen.
Out of no where, tears were streaming down my cheeks. Not the soft, ‘I’m frustrated’ tears, but thick, wet, god-awful sopping tears. I was bawling on my bed in a crumpled ball of sheets from hell. Every reason of pathetic-ness was filling my body. “What am I doing with my life?” “I’ve come so far and then I end up here?” I don’t even know where I want to go.” My dad is dead.” Yea, that one struck my bones, and pierced my heart like those ‘oh shit’ moments when you just remembered something but it was too late. Thoughts were flooding my mind from every direction, but my dad is dead and I can’t even put on these sheets from hell.
It was a breakdown moment. I had no clue where it came from but the sheets some how connected me to a feeling of despair. A feeling of just feeling sorry for myself. Is that okay? Am I aloud to just feel stupid and sorry for myself? Weep in my own sorrows in a ball of stupid sheets? Sobbing for an unknown reason, wiping my tears with empty pillow cases? I wasn’t even sure what the tears meant. I didn’t know if it was a longing cry for my father, or purely just a moment of my soul finally feeling it’s break. Finally feeling something; an emotion bigger than sadness. It was a feeling that filled some emptiness, but more importantly awoke the numbness.
Memories and images of random moments started to run in my mind like credits of a movie. So fast I could barely make out the names. They weren’t anything specific, not even necessarily of my dad, but just small moments of my life. Running with my dog, dancing with friends, dipping my toes into the lake, tossing my cap in the air at graduation, and speeding down the mountain on my snowboard. None of these things made sense at the time. I felt so confused but as the tears started to dry on my cheek, I realized all of those things had one common concept. I AM HERE. I am alive. I am in this moment. I am here, I am alive and I am with these sheets from hell.
They were wrinkled and stiff. The furthest from comfort, but I swept my feet against them at the bottom of my bed. The uncomfortable felt bearable. I closed my eyes and ran my fingertips on top of them, snickering at the rose tint. I took a deep breath and thought again, I am alive, I am here.
I rolled over, holding my pillow close against my chest, sighing in relief. Not a relief to be in my bed, but a relief from my soul. I swear it felt like a tiny hole somewhere in my heart was slowly trickling, then flooding with peace. Yes, you guessed it, my peace of derek. As I lay there, in my bed, remembering that I am alive, I am here, on my sheets from hell. I closed my eyes, feeling at peace, and I put faith in something or someone ‘up there’ that I would get a visit from my dad in my dreams that night.
I woke up smiling and at peace. Making my bed with less of an argument with my sheets this time. Today is a new day.
Thanks Brittany Barcellos for this amazing photo! Smile, YOU ARE ALIVE!
Derek was my precious first-born. He arrived August 15, 1954 at Lewis Memorial Hospital in Yosemite National Park. He was born at 4 p.m. on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. He had dark blue eyes and gobs of black hair and I recall laughingly asking the nurse if he was really Derek George De Backer? Every mother thinks her baby is the cutest, smartest and most wonderful among all babies. But he truly was. He grew to be a remarkable, intelligent and caring man. He was interested in learning and loved to read. Even as a young boy, he read the newspaper from cover to cover and could discuss what he read or ask questions about things he didn’t understand. He was a happy baby, boy, teen and young man.
He went through all the stages – learned to swim when he was five, loved to wear his cowboy outfit with holster, rode his first tricycle with great gusto and then had a shiny new bike at about eight-years-old. We attended St. Columbus Episcopal Church on Las Posas Road in what was then the sleepy town of Camarillo. When the church’s director in charge of the youth group lost his battle to cancer, I was asked to take the volunteer position – with three children and a full-time job. It was a fun opportunity to plan special events for the more than 75 boys and girls in the group. Derek was eventually elected president and his sister Debi was secretary. One Sunday afternoon, we had 75 kids for a party in what was then called our “Rumpus Room.” Derek was always active in Little League and I tried to attend all his games in spite of a full working schedule. In high school, he was also active and popular, elected as Junior Class President. I have pictures of him and other members of the Class of ’72 in our garage (then on West Loop – we moved there in 1968) during a “Paper Drive” to earn monies for the Junior Class. Derek also played Center on the high school football team.
Derek was growing up in a time of turmoil (much as it is today, sadly), with our country torn by violence and the conflict in Vietnam. Derek was sensitive to the chaos and we often discussed the news and its consequences. He was appalled, as we all were, when our President, John F. Kennedy, was killed, then later, his brother Bobby. One day he came to me as I got home from work and his beautiful blue eyes were filled with sadness as he asked me “Why?” And there were no answers. But that night, I sat down at my typewriter (no computers in those days) and began to write. In those days, I was a career journalist, Lifestyle Editor of my local newspaper, The Press-Courier, and I wrote a weekly column in addition to “covering” various social and political events in Ventura County. That week’s column, titled “A Mother Looks at Violence,” ran in the Sunday edition of my Lifestyle section. Early Sunday morning as we got ready for church, Father Jerry Graves, priest of St. Columbus. called and asked my permission to read my “A Mother Looks at Violence” in place of his planned sermon. I don’t think Derek got all of his answers as to “Why?” but his question to me confirmed that many others were asking “Why?” Another time, Derek and I sat together with tears in our eyes as we watched on TV as another President, Richard Nixon, resigned his office.
There are many priceless memories of my Derek. He was a good man, a wonderful father and a loving son. His friends were legion and came from all walks of life. He was loved by many and he adored his first-born Jason and his darling daughter Aimee who brought him great joy. He would be most proud of them if he had lived to see Jason graduate last year with his AA degree from Tahoe Community College, and his Aimee receive her degree from Chico almost two years ago. He also is dearly missed by his sister Debi and his “little bro” Daryl. Daryl finds it especially hard to realize that he and his “bro” will never be able to watch their favorite Laker games and other sports.
Adding my thoughts to Peace of Derek has given me an opportunity to experience again the joys of being a mother to a truly remarkable man. I don’t think I did anything to contribute to this wonderful life (which ended too soon) except give him life. Aimee’s Peace of Life dedicated to her father, gave me a rare look into my own feelings and allowed me to remember some of the precious times we shared together.
I miss Derek more than I can ever express. We talked every day “Hey, how’s it going?” “Did you read about ….” He was my darling son but he was also my best friend. Now, his beautiful sister Debi and “bro” Daryl and I talk almost every day. I think his younger brother Daryl recalls his brother’s devotion as Daryl tells me he loves me during most every phone call from beautiful Lake Tahoe. I believe that Derek looks down at us with his love and is the strength that will guide his handsome Jason and beautiful Aimee. Derek’s ashes were scattered in his beloved ocean. When I look at the ocean (which is only steps from our front door), I think of my dear first-born and know he is in a better place. In our guest room are many pictures of my beloved family. On one wall is a plaque which is surrounded by pictures of Derek in all phases of his short life. The words on the plaque are dedicated to Derek with love: